Imagine being a solo singer-songwriter in indie rock music trying to make a name for yourself in a genre that’s heavily male. Imagine the label “female indie rock” automatically putting you in a pile with other “female indie rock” artists even if your music, vocals and songwriting styles are unique to your counterparts.
This is a reality all too true for Lucy Dacus – a Virginia-based indie songwriter whose music if often compared to the likes of Julien Baker – a label-mate of Dacus’ – who is also a female who also happens to dabble in the same genre (more on this soon).
Rock music’s focus has primarily revolved around showcasing men and men writing about their feelings even though the genre has continuously grown with more and more women. Since April 2017, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame has 317 inductees: 43 of them are women or acts that include women: making the genre imbalance a whopping 86.5% male and 13.5% female.
Enter boygenius – a project created by Julien Baker, Lucy Dacus and Phoebe Bridgers – released a 3 song EP this past August after announcing their North American co-tour, including sets from each solo artist and then a performance from the trio at the end of the show. They were originally only going to release one song together to promote the tour, which led to three…which led to six.
The name boygenius was derived from the idea that “we can carelessly lean on gender to telegraph meaning.” boygenius’ six-song album was released on November 9 and received critical acclaim across the board – most complaints were only about wishing the album was longer.
I had seen Phoebe Bridgers’ headlining show earlier this year (read the review here) and unfortunately missed Lucy Dacus’ set (she was on first). I had known a handful of Julian Baker’s songs before I saw her perform (she was the “top” booking of the night) – but the real reason why I bought these tickets was to see the electricity that Lucy, Phoebe and Julien create when they perform together.
While it’s been stated in multiple interviews that the women of boygenius’ writing process for the EP was collaborative, hearing the songs live made me curious to try to determine if each song was developed initially by one of the artists over the other. For example – “Me & My Dog” seems inherently like a Bridgers’ penned track – “Souvenir” sounds like Baker – “Salt In The Wound” is quintessentially Dacus. I can be wrong at any of these takes but that’s what’s fun about playing the guessing game.
The set began with “Souvenir” – (A Julian track, IMO) as the three ladies emerged onstage together in matching blazers to take their places onstage – Bridgers on the left, Baker in the middle and Dacus on the far right. You could tell from the moment they took the stage to begin their set that it was going to be a display of pure magic and the epitome of what it means to have a successful collaboration. It can be hard to share the stage with other performers, especially when all three of these women have their own solo careers and are continuing to build them individually: being humble enough to stay reserved during moments to let others shine isn’t the easiest thing in the world as an up and coming artist.
But that’s the genius of boygenius (pun intended). You can clearly tell from their interactions on and off the stage that their collaborative music making is something they truly enjoy, something that inspires each other, allows room to grow as individual artists while coming together to create something on a bigger scale than a singular voice allows. It’s clear that they admire each other’s abilities as songwriters, instrument players and vocalists, and in an industry where it seems like you can’t be anything but competitive, especially as a female, boygenius challenges the status quo.
My personal favorite moments of the 6-long set (please give us more collabs if you’re reading this, Phoebe, Julian or Lucy), included “Bite The Hand,” “Me And My Dog” (personal favorite) and the last song: where the three ladies took a step away from the microphones, set down the guitars and gathered as tightly as they could in a pile of limbs at the very top center of the stage to close with “Ketchum, ID” – a cappella. This caused the audience to really focus their attention on the sound – Thalia Hall is not a small venue (it holds 1,300).
All in all, the biggest news about boygenius is their sheer existence. Defying the norm of what it means to be an indie rock artist can be difficult when it’s so reliant on gender: women in all genres of music are constantly being compared to each other just because they’re women. Existing in spite of this and creating sad, inspiring, emotional, cathartic music and it being the biggest news in 2018 rock music makes me hopeful for what’s to come – hopefully another 6 songs from boygenius and a slot performing at a Chicago music festival next year?
It came to my attention while drafting this review that boy genius has recently been performing a cover of The Dixie Chicks’ “Cowboy Take Me Away” – and now walking around the earth knowing I missed an opportunity to see these ladies over one of the best female groups of our generation hurts me to my CORE. You can check out this glorious cover below: